In this chapter, Alanna receives her punishment from Duke Gareth for beating Ralon, but goes away understanding she did the right thing according to the Code of Chivalry. Then a mysterious illness that drains healers of their power as it kills its victims strikes the palace, and Alanna has to confront her fear of her own magic to save Prince Jonathan when he falls ill.
Lots of cool magic stuff happens in this chapter, but I think I want to unpack that next time, because this chapter starts with Alanna talking to Duke Gareth about her fight with Ralon, and... there's a lot to talk about here. Yes, that makes three posts discussing this one cruddy incident that's really not more than a footnote in Alanna's life. No, I don't care, because inspecting this incident is important to me. After all, Kel is also bullied during her fight for her shield, but she's a target because of her sex. Alanna is still hiding her true self at this point, so she gets targeted only because the patriarchy functions like this in Tortall at this point. (I look forward to exploring the way the events of Alanna's books became possible thanks to things that happened in Beka's series, but we'll get there. Beka's books aren't as fun if you haven't read the other Tortall books anyway, since they're full of Easter eggs.)
Anyway, Duke Gareth. The chapter starts with a paragraph describing the lecture he gives Alanna for fighting, in which he tells her she fought disgracefully and that she has to apologize to Ralon's father for the beating. Alanna, for once in her life, understands the subtext:
Alanna stood at attention, listening. She loved the way the Duke talked. She knew he was pleased that she had beaten Ralon, not angry. She also knew he could never tell her so because she had broken the rules, and that she had to take her punishment without complaint because she had known the rules when she broke them.
I mean, after all Alanna's struggles with this system in the second chapter, she’s adapted very quickly, and it’s depressing. She no longer expects adults to protect her or to care when she's hurt; she knows that she has to go out and find her own solutions to her problems. And she hasn't absorbed any of Myles's skepticism about the system. Instead, she's pleased to know that Duke Gareth thinks she did the right thing, even as he punishes her and pretends like it was an unconscionable action.
Watching Duke Gareth tie himself in knots over this whole thing is also depressing. He knows that Ralon targeting Alanna is a bad thing, and that Alanna standing up for herself and learning new combat techniques is a good thing. But it's his job to enforce the rules, no matter how stupid and useless they are. We already know this doesn't get fixed because the next training master is Lord Wyldon, and he's just as bad in a different way. We'll have to see how the guy after Wyldon does, since eventually we'll get a book about Kel training the next generation of lady knights.
Alanna ends up thinking about the entire matter this way:
Once you know the rules, she thought as she listened to the Duke with one ear, life is pretty simple. I don't get made at Duke Gareth because I know he has to obey the rules just as I do, and I know he isn't truly angry with me anyway. Maybe our Code of Chivalry isn't such a bad thing.
Before I go over this one, I want to jump back to the previous chapter, to a quote I didn't get to analyzing:
No matter what Myles said, [Alanna] had used fancy tricks to beat Ralon, that was all. She was still a girl masquerading as a boy, and sometimes she doubted that she would ever believe herself to be as good as the stupidest, clumsiest male.
First of all, let's all breathe a collective sigh of relief that Alanna’s perspective on herself changes. I’ve read too many books where characters flat-out hate themselves and that’s just taken as normal. Alanna fears her own femininity, since for most of her life it's a barrier that keeps her from her true strength. But she does get to explore her own feminine side once she gets with George and meets Thayet, so that'll be fun to go over. Tamora Pierce definitely has a bias towards tough girls, but she's also careful to show that the more delicate ways to be a girl are just as valid, like with Varice Kingsford in the Immortals quartet. But Alanna has a long way to go before she unlearns her own internalized misogyny.
Let's focus on Alanna's reaction to the problem of Ralon now that it's solved. Alanna never considers that the system might change, or that she could be an agent of change herself. Consider what happens when she’s outed as female: she’s honestly shocked that her friends don’t hate her for lying. She assumes that being her own honest self will be read as a betrayal. In this case in particular, Alanna sees herself as a cheater and an outsider, so she had to use cheating and outsider techniques to beat Ralon, which makes her victory less worthy. Even though her conversation with Jonathan helps her come to terms with the fact that the fight was unfair from the start, she still admires the way Duke Gareth stands up for the way things should be. Even though "the way things should be" as dictated by the Code of Chivalry means that a bunch of adults stood by while an older boy savagely beat a succession of younger ones. And not really following the Code at all, as far as I can tell.
The good thing is that Alanna grows out of this as she becomes more confident in herself and learns about different cultures, like the Bazhir. After she defeats Roger, she comes to question a lot of things and wonders whether the Tortallan way of life is really the best one after all. But that takes a while. For right now, we just have to sigh and remember that things get better. Kel, for example, handles systemic injustice very differently—but we'll get to her when we get to her. For right now we're with Alanna, and she's fighting her own battles.